Monday, November 17, 2008

East Africa Safari

I recently returned from a 17 day East Africa Safari spending a week in Tanzania and a week in Kenya. This has been my dream trip since I can remember and after 20 years finally made it! I traveled with my sister and my cousins from California and we were fortunate enough to be the only 4 in our party for game drives etc. I worked with a new company called All Africa Expeditions, the owner Albert Anson, being a past manager for Park East Safari's and the past 2 years with International Expeditions before opening his own company. Initially I had booked us with IE and Albert was the contact person so when he left to open his company I decided to stay with him. He packaged the exact same itinerary for us that we had booked with IE and I had previously sold in the past to clients on Park East and Micato.

We were not disappointed! It was the trip of a lifetime for all of us for sure. We were met at the airport in Arusha by a representative of Ranger Safari's who handled the Tanzania portion of the trip. The airport was very small and we easily obtained our visa's for Tanzania within a matter of minutes after arriving. It was a short ride to our first hotel which was called the Movairo Lodge. Check in was efficient and quick as our Ranger representative handled it for us. The Lodge is on the grounds of a working coffee plantation and a beautiful setting with all the cottages surrounded by magnificent bougainvillea's of all colors. They had a small pool as well as walking trails but being so tired we did not take full advantage. Each cottage was fully equipped with electricity and all amenities we could have needed including insect lotion, spray and flashlights. Actually all of these things were provided everywhere we went so we could have nicely omitted them from our packing. The food was and service was fine, we were off to a good start.

We were met by our guide in the morning who was with us the entire tour of Tanzania. His name was "Sulieman" and he was a gem for sure! From Arusha we went to Lake Manyara for 1 night and stayed in the first of a few Serena Lodges. We spend 2 nights at the Ngorongoro Crater Serena Lodge and had a day room in Nairobi prior to departure at the Nairobi Serena ( truly deluxe property). I could detail every property for you but I'm sure most of you know them and this would get quite lengthy! Both of the lodges had spectacular grounds set overlooking the lake and the crater. Our rooms all had balconies or patios with incredible views and again were fully equipped with everything we might need and more. The beds were quite comfortable and showers strong and good with hot water and pressure. Each lodge also provided day laundry service as well as had salon & massage amenities. The massage options were well received after some of the driving in Tanzania! The food service in the Lodges was mostly buffet with main meal choices for dinner's main course. The fruits and vegetables were marvelous and very safe to eat and certainly no one went without a meal! Each property also had a nice lounge/bar area where the views were incredible. Limited evening entertainment was provided at each facility, more than enough truly.

In between Lake Manyara & Ngorongoro Crater we spent 3 nights on the Serengeti in a mobile tent camp site. This was truly a fabulous experience and so well orchestrated. Being the beginning of the short rainy season and end of a peak season, we were the last guests to stay in this location. And we were the only guests which was very special. Prior to our arrival there had been 8 tents set up for capacity of 16 guests, this being a maximum for most of their locations. We were only 2 tents along with the lounge/bar/meal tent and the crew site. We had a crew of 8 for the 4 of us and the service was just excellent. The accommodations were way more than we anticipated from a mobile sit and we were just thrilled when we saw the flush toilets in each tent! The tents were again equipped with every conceivable amenity and the beds so very comfortable! The food was the best of anyplace we stayed, I can honestly equate it to almost any cruise line I have sailed on. The portions were moderate but more for the asking and we always had 2 options for dinner. Delicious soups were the start and we ended with deluxe desserts as well. Our breakfasts began with wake up calls by the side of our tents along with coffee or tea to get you started. Eggs, bacon, sausage, all cooked to order, just couldn't ask for more.

Our guide arranged our game drives around our wishes and we of course deferred to him. We always had at least 2 per day, some days opting for a longer morning drive and other days even full day drives for which we were packed full meals to go. We were greeted after each drive (and arrival to each site) with a cool or warm clothe to wipe our faces and a cold glass of fresh juice. Hot water for our showers was provided within 10 minutes of returning to our tents. Each night before dinner we had "happy hour" by a campfire and were served drinks of our choice along with an appetizer. Our laundry was done complimentary as well and returned each evening to us. We were walked back to our tents and made sure we had everything we needed each night including our whistles in case we needed help!

Each day in the Serengeti the animals moved a bit closer to our camp site so by the time we left they were very near by. It was so peaceful sleeping each night listening to the sounds of the wildebeest, zebra and lions in the distance. Again, we were so thrilled with the entire organization, it was very impressive and first class all the way. I think they order in which we experienced the various properties was perfect too. It just got better and better and I think by experiencing the mobile camp site before the permanent ones was the right choice. No disappointments or expectations that weren't met.

In Tanzania we did all driving to get from point to point. Some of it was very rough and long, very dusty as well. It would not be for everyone for sure but it was part of the experience and will be most helpful in selling safari for me. The habitats for all the animals were quite different from place to place and much of it would have been missed without the driving. Before I go to Kenya, let me say that we saw all of the Big 5 many times over as well as up close and personal! I have some marvelous video to prove it. The migration of the wildebeest and zebra began early from Kenya because of the weather so we were able to experience that as well. To "live" on the animals territory is certainly the experience of a lifetime, at least it was for us.

Our Ranger staff drove us to the border in Kenya where we began our next week. The border was certainly interesting and busy but again an easy time had in getting our visa's here as well. The transition from one company to the other was very painless and well handled. Our next stop was Amboseli with our guide Pilot. Our next stop was a permanent camp site called Tortillis in Amboseli. This was marvelous! The main area of check in, restaurant and lounge was overlooking a small water area constantly teaming with birds and animals. The tents were luxurious for sure each with a patio area, fully equipped with amenities, deluxe vanities and bathrooms. The lighting was excellent, beds very comfortable and the setting was marvelous. The service and meal choices were excellent as well and we had no complaints at all.

Our second and 3rd permanent camp sites were Samburu Intrepid and Mara Intrepid. The Intrepid chain of sites has been around a long time I understand and certainly are deluxe for tents! I think the amenities and tents were a bit more deluxe than Tortillis but I think the overall setting of Tortillis might have had a slight edge. Both Intrepid were set on rivers with balconies or decks overlooking the water. The set up of the tents were almost identical in each with very deluxe bathrooms and amenities. Electrical service again was full and every amenity was offered along with lovely restaurant and lounge areas. The Mara Intrepid was the only site to have a lounge with an actual television as entertainment. Not something we missed but for some would he a high point! The food in all 3 camps was for the most part buffets again with a main choice selection for dinners. The food was abundant and no one lost any weight on this trip for sure! The gift shops were very well outfitted also and service at all sites was just excellent.

We had 3 different guides for each site and certainly the terrain was very different in each place. All our guides were excellent and our game drives were incredible. Each offered a variety of options with our drives, from bush breakfasts to sundowner happy hours on the mountains or hills. If anyone thinks this was roughing it well, this experience gives new meaning to camp sites! We also did a balloon ride over the Mara as well which was quite the experience ending with a champagne breakfast served on the plains!

I almost forgot our 1 night stay at Mount Kenya Safari Club which is currently under renovations as a Fairmont Property. To say the least it is a deluxe property for sure as you expect from a Fairmont. A nice experience as I had always heard about this property and William Holden and Stephanie Powers contributions to it. Truly a magnificent place but honestly to me, would not be my choice for a safari stay. Loses something in the translation of atmosphere for me but glad to have tried it.

We also used Air Kenya in short flights within Kenya for the most part. Talk about a pleasure flying! Arriving 5 minutes to the airstrip prior to the flight arriving and taking off 5 minutes after that give new meaning to ON TIME ratings! Very courteous staff and enjoyable flights for sure. Also, we did not ever have a problem with the weight restrictions on our flights and we were all over the 33 pound restriction. I think mostly this was because our flights were not overly full either but this is something we need to be aware of for our clients, it could have been a problem for us, thankfully was not!

I could go on and on about this trip but will just say it was everything I had ever dreamed it would be and I would not hesitate to go again in a heartbeat. I'm not sure if I have a client base for safari but am certainly going to try. From the small amount of safari and area I have experienced I can see where this type of a trip can be planned to meet almost anyone' needs. I was able to see a couple of other property types and they can be quite diverse and accommodating. I'm more than happy to provide any additional detail to anyone who might need it.

One other note worthy thing. My cousin Bob has sleep apnea and uses a breathing machine at night. Arrangements were made in advance for this and as happens on any trip (never mind Africa!) these don't always work out. At our first camp site they were not aware of this need and of course being a mobile site it was not a simple matter. The staff went above and beyond while we were out on our first drive to connect an additional link to the generator to make it work. At the lodges of course this was not a problem but the camp sites are different. Each site shuts down the electricity during the night while we sleep as part of operations. If they were not able to configure their generators they instead left the power on all night for us.

Again, above and beyond for the entire trip, we have not one complaint or thing we would change. I thank Albert for helping make my dream come true, it was a perfectly planned trip! His years of experience selling Africa (and being a native helps) certainly worked for us and I would highly recommend All Africa Expeditions and will certainly use them again.

Sorry to be so long with this, hard to condense a dream trip! I'm sure I have forgotten key points, please just ask me if I can help.

Kathy Wachter

Friday, November 14, 2008

Paradisus Palma Real

I just returned from a 3 night stay at Paradisus Palma Real in Punta Cana. The airport there is pretty cool with those giant thatched roof buildings. Getting a taxi can be a bit of a hassle, you are accosted as soon as you go outside but the ride is a short half hour. The entryway and lobby of the resort are gorgeous, the hotel centers around a giant courtyard looking right through to a massive pool and great beach. We had a garden view room and it was well appointed. The beds were very nice and the maid service was unbelievable considering it was three guys making a mess in there. We made sure to take good care of her when we left. Paradisus has a main buffet and five or six restaurants which require reservations and a bit of a dress code. Not having anything other than shorts and flip flops we were restricted to the buffet which suited us fine. There is a good selection with fresh fruit and juice. The dishes themselves could be a little off, not bad per se, just not what you expect but I think that's standard in the Caribbean. Overall the staff were very warm and considerate and if you can manage a little spanish they'll appreciate it. Tips here and there are also more than welcome. This all-inclusive is pretty much all couples as well as a few wedding parties. There were only two families with kids but maybe there's more during the peak season. I talked to a bride and groom from Ohio who raved about their stay for their wedding and honeymoon. A great place for a couple who wants a beautiful setting and a nice quiet vacation (except a show every night and a small casino almost nothing at night)

Peter Cacciari

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Report on the World

Columbus may have discovered America, but I have discovered THE WORLD. As soon as you step on the gangplank and you
are greeted by Dennis, who has been with the line since its inception, you know that you have entered a different sphere, a planet
where everything is gentle and soft. Each and every member of the staff/the crew is there for you - service with a smile - and what
smiles! There are 250 employees no matter how many residents/guests are sailing. On our cruise we were about 125. Speaking
to the son of one of the residents, he told us that he tries to sail as often as possible (his parents own a 3-bedroom apartment on board)
and the maximum guests on board that he has experienced have been around 350.

Pauline and I each had a Studio Apartment, with clean lines, built for the ultimate efficiency. There is a sitting area and a desk
and a delightful balcony. One architectural/designer special feature that I have never experienced on any other vessel was a big picture
window in the bathroom that looks into the cabin area and on to the balcony and on to the sea. So one can shower, or while putting
makeup on, look out and watch the seas, the skies with varying colours especially at sunset. Or you can draw the shades closed
electrically when in Port.

We did a site of the 1, 2 and 3 bedroom apartments. And the one thing they all have in common is, when you walk in the front door
you enter into amazing brightness. Yes, the sun was shining when we were doing our site, but with the miles of deck space
these larger apartments have, I cannot envision any one of them ever being dark. Each bedroom has its own bathroom. The
Master has a separate tub and shower. Top designers, i.e. Nina Campbell, Hirsch Bedner, JP Molyneux and TMT Design have
been the decorators and of course each individual owner has put his/her stamp on their own residence. When renting, one can
request the preferred type of decor. From delightful modern, to English country, to Italianette, lots of choices. These larger
apartments have a great kitchen with very well hidden washer and dryer.

Dining is pure delight. Four diningrooms and a deli. Food delicious and lovely service. Activities on board abound. There is a great
tennis court. The golfers find putting greens, chipping areas, a simulator, and driving range. The Sports and Golf Director
is available for lessons and happy to arrange private golf trips to the best golf courses all over the world. Same can be done
for the tennis player. There is a gym, a beautiful outdoor pool and indoor pool as well. The Banyan Tree Spa is divine. I
had the best massage I have ever had. The spa has a jacuzzi, steam baths and saunas. There are no "shows" but each night
at cocktail hour and after dinner, there is a variety of piano and violin music, jazz, a wonderful singer, and, when in Port you do
get excellent local talent to perform as well. The library is great with excellent variety of books and DVDs. Library has a lovely
seating area. Pauline and I were most fortunate to have attended a cocktail party where their guest Chef, Serge Bottelli (who manages
La Coquille Restaurant and oversees the cuisine at Tuckers Point Club in Bermuda, where he made the most amazing hors d'oeuvres
(accompanied by lovely champagne of course) Serge has been profiled on Discovery Channel's "Great Chefs of the World".
Serge also gave a cooking demonstration where we got to sample all the delicious dishes (accompanied by wine of course). He
was charming and very funny. The World always arranges to have such special features on board.

Those on board have the choice of full privacy in their own apartment, or they have friends over for dinner, get together around the
pool, make reservations in one of the restaurants to dine together, etc., just like one would do on land. One can see the existing
camaraderie amongst the owners. And we found they were very open to meet the new "faces". We had great chats with them
and enjoyed listening to the stories of their various sailings. Most spend 4 months and more on board. It is only The World that
will spend 2, 3, 4 days and more, depending on destination, at Port. Side trips can be taken knowing your floating home is waiting for you when
you return - back to the "other" WORLD.

Luisa McGrath
Travel Exchange - A Virtuoso Agency
2 Sconset Square
Westport, Ct. 06880